Murder Charges Becoming More Common in Overdose Deaths

Created: 05/30/2014 7:07 PM
By: John Doetkott

(ABC 6 News) -- Heroin overdoses are becoming all too common.

So county prosecutors are increasingly going after dealers, trying to hold them responsible, with some now facing murder charges.

On Thursday morning, Rochester police arrested 46-year-old Demetrious Deal in connection with the heroin overdose of 39-year-old Nicholas Miner.

Witnesses told police Deal sold Miner the deadly heroin, and law enforcement is considering charging deal with murder.

In the Twin Cities, five people are facing murder charges after police said they were involved in synthetic drug transactions that ultimately lead to the overdose death of 17-year-old Tara Fitzgerald.

While it may seem like a stretch, the legal provision for charging drug suppliers with murder has actually been on the books since 1987.

"The law specifically provides in one of the sections that if....someone dies as a proximate result of what you have sold to that individual, that you're guilty of a charge, and that is murder in the third degree,” said Craig Nelson, the Freeborn County attorney.

Experts said the statue is seldomly used because it can be hard to prove that alleged dealers sold the specific drugs that caused the overdose.

But officials said advances in chemical testing are making it easier to track drug use, and will become more necessary as overdose rates continue to rise.

"I don't know exactly how often, but I wouldn't be hesitant to say one every two weeks or so, of overdoses,” said Mower County Sheriff Terese Amazi. “Certainly not deaths, but we are having issues."

Officials said they expect more prosecutors to use this tactic in the future, saying they hope the harsher penalties will act as a deterrent for future dealers.

"I think anything that we can do to dissuade this kind of behavior is definitely something we need to pursue," Sheriff Amazi said.    

To reiterate, Demetrious Deal is not charged with murder as of Friday afternoon. 

The Olmsted County attorney said it is too early in the investigation, but they are still considering that as an option.